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David Kalemera’s appointment: Let Museveni set a “thief to catch a thief”, it works  

Wadada Rogers

On Friday July, 5th 2024, an unknown yet a well educated and experienced David Kalemera broke the internet. You would not read five articles without three talking about man many have described as a Rwandese, a Somali and Ethiopian. Never mind. That is a common diversionary phrase often used to bias Ugandans that we are ruled by foreigners. It is a common phrase used to undermine those who have risen from nothing to something. 

The reason for becoming the talk of the town was a result of his appointment to head the newly created State House Revenue Intelligence and Strategic Operations Unit (SHRISOU). The unit has been created to re-enforce the monitoring of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) operations and fight corruption within the tax administration system.

This newly formed unit is one among many others that the President created in the recent times to back up existing but toothless statutory entities. The President may have lost trust in their performance hence creating counter intelligence measures working directly under his watch. I do not know whether the President is abusing his prerogative but I think his decision was influenced by their performance since they were created.

Just like State House Land Protection Unit, State House Health monitoring Unit, State House Anti Corruption Unit and State House Investors Protection Unit, State House Revenue Intelligence and Strategic Operations Unit will report directly to state house with the mandate of closing gaps that have led to revenue leakages and averting inefficiencies in the tax collection.

The unit according to insiders will be working with highly trained discreet persons and will be scattered covertly in major towns and border points around the country. This is the very reason why some people who were enjoying the openings are in panic. However, their solace should lie in the fact that the newly created unit will not overlap the mandate of URA or even interfere in its administration.

The two entities will in fact remain independent of each other but will combine efforts to avert leakages. Therefore, employees of URA should not worry about the uncompromising work methods of Kalemera as he has not been appointed to supervise but to back them up. They are partners in progress in the interest of tax collection.

When it became public that the President had appointed Kalemera to head the unit, social media critics including clearing agents, the business community, current and former URA staff went up in arms making all sorts of slanderous statements in opposition. Others even referred to him as a corrupt convict hoping to lure the President to reconsider his decision. One of the demeaning comments came from a former commissioner with a personal vendetta against Kalemera.  

The majority of Kalemera’s critics have focused their attention on a 2022 Anti Corruption Court decision where Kalemera was found guilty of knowingly using falsified commercial invoices and packing lists. However, when a background check was made, it was confirmed that Kalemera left URA in 2016 as soon as he was acquitted by the Anti corruption Court Chief Magistrate over similar allegations. Frustrated by endless bickering, he gave up and went into private business.

Having stated that Kalemera parted ways with URA in 2016, some people remained fishing for some pieces of evidence to pin him. Two years later, Criminal case No.7 of 2018 was filed with a charge of conspiracy to commit a felony. There is not better inference other than to state that Kalemera was a victim of a witch hunt syndicate.

What I know for a fact is that Kalemera did not know which side of his bread was buttered, he thought doing his work right would present him as a patriotic statesman, he was wrong, he was simply working with vulture scavenging for more. He openly defied his bosses who were playing dirty in favour of well connected importers. I have personally seen URA documents some people’s tax obligations were lifted unilaterally. Besides, some of his bosses were secretly operating clearing firms while shielding their fraudulent clients.

According to his critics, Kalemera is not the most suited person to head an entity created to fight graft because of that court case. They could partly be right but who said Kalemera’s job entails collecting taxes or dealing with tax payers. Like the name suggest, his duty is oversight and to gather intelligence that can be used to curtail rackets of defaulters. At no single time is he going to hold tax payer’s money as that mandate is a statutory obligation of URA.

Above all, who said convicted persons are not supposed to be employed? Have these critics bothered to find out what punishment was given Kalemera after the conviction, has any one established whether or not he appealed the decision. Lets imagine there is a pending appeal; would we be right to label him a convict?  

A plain understanding of justice Gidudu’s judgment shows Kalemera was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a felony contrary to section 390 of the Penal Code Act and under the East African Community Customs Management Act and not Anti Corruption Act. Indeed he is a convict but his conviction only marks him as the best choice for the job. It is therefore wrong to call Kalemera a corrupt convict because the decision did not pronounce him corrupt.  

The Anti Corruption Act defines corruption in terms of its manifestations to include “the solicitation or acceptance, directly or indirectly, by a public official, of any goods of monetary value, or any other form of gratification for him or herself or for another person or entity in exchange for any act or omission in the performance of his or her public functions….”

I have read several pieces claiming that since Kalemera’s conviction, he has not served 10years and therefore he cannot hold public office. Of course as head of the newly created unit, one would argue that he will draw his emoluments from the public fund but the argument is farfetched. There is no evidence that these units are backed by any law. The employees of these units can be hired and fired time without invoking any law. He is therefore not a public servant within the meanings of articles 175(a) and (b) and 257(1) of the 1995 Constitution.

 

Museveni has been in power close to 40years but many people have failed to understand his work methods. He is certainly not the best thing that has ever happened to Uganda, No, he has simply mastered the art of manipulating society. At the peak of high level criminal gangs, Museveni took a gamble of recruiting hard core criminals into security organs. Somehow he had learnt a trick known as “set a thief to catch a thief”.  Within months, criminal gangs were busted and dismantled before the gang members either killed and or arrested.

 

So to say, the system of set a thief to catch a thief is used world over and has proved effective. I am not suggesting that the newly appointed head of State House Revenue Intelligence and Strategic Operations Unit is a criminal or that he is corrupt but if he is, then he is the right person to take on that job. He is exactly the person Museveni has been looking for. With his over 10 years experience as a customs officer, I believe Kalemera knows all the tricks used by clearing agents, drivers, importers, exporters and URA staff  to create leakages.  

 

The idea behind this expression “set a thief to catch a thief” is that sometimes the best person to catch or outsmart a criminal is another criminal or someone with a similar background or expertise. The reasoning is that they would understand the tactics and strategies used by criminals, making them better equipped to apprehend or counteract them. For instance, Museveni has defeated rebel activities in Uganda and beyond because he was one.

 

In addition to the “set a thief approach”, there is another system within the crime prevention strategies known as ‘think thief’ perspective’, where one attempts to place themselves in the shoes of the offender to seek to understand how a particular crime type is done. Recent researches in crime have recognized the importance of “Thinking thief” syndrome. As implied in the name, this approach is a form of “strategic” thinking, where leaders are encouraged to approach criminality using the offender’s perspective or the offender himself.

 

In other words, those who are bashing Kalemera for having been found guilty of tax offences are only making him a formidable choice for the job. Am sure the President will be glad to tap into that knowledge for future use. I do not like the Kalemera man myself but for the sake of improving tax collections, I would personally want to give him a chance to expose the racket.

 

Let the President maintain his stand, am sure a background check was done before he took the decision to appoint him. With such a unit in place and with the empowerment of whistle blowers protected under the Whistle Blowers Act, the sky is the limit. Within a short time, we shall look at Kalemera’s report card, assess the impact and make an appraisal before we can write him off.

 

To naysayers, I implore you to give David a chance and watch from the peripheral. With his past experience, am confident he will close all the gaps that the business community has been exploiting to cheat the country. Infact the Commissioner General should be celebrating the move of creating this unit, it will make work so easy for him by closing all the loopholes and then we shall understand that it is only a thief who has the best tricks to catch fellow thief.   

 

I have said it before and I will say it again that nobody throws stones at a mango tree unless it has fruits. The bashing of Kalemera is not because he is a bad person; he is being looked at as an obstacle to URA employees, clearing agents and the business community as he will be reporting all his investigations to state house at their detriment. I insist a tax cheat if at all would be the best person to block other tax cheats from cheating taxes.

Wadada Rogers is a commentator on political, legal and social issues. Wadroger @yahoo.ca

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